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Why Do Cats Like Earwax? 5 Main Reasons


Apr 27, 2023
one cat grooming another cat


one cat grooming another cat

As gross as it may sound, foraging for earwax is a bizarre pastime activity for cats. You will find your cat licking your Q-tips after you have used them or simply licking your ear. However, there are some surprisingly good reasons why this substance, which oozes out of our ears, has such an appeal to our furry companions.

Perhaps the best explanation for cats liking earwax is because of its scent. Though humans cannot detect this scent, cats have over 200 million scent sensors that can even detect earwax on Q-tips. Moreover, the scent of earwax is appealing to cats because it’s a good source of nutrition for them.

This article will further highlight some likely reasons why cats like earwax and how to discourage them from consuming it.


The 5 Reasons Why Cats Like Earwax

1. They Are Attracted to Fatty Acids and Protein in Earwax

Also known as Cerumen, earwax is a waxy and protective oil produced by glands found in the ear canal, which doesn’t sound like a delicious ingredient for cat food. However, a study conducted in 1991 on earwax discovered that it contains dead skin, cholesterol, and fatty acids, among other things.1

Therefore, the composition of earwax consists of animal proteins, which cats consume to survive.

As obligate carnivores, cats must eat meaty diets to get the required nutrients. With their keen sense of smell, they can already smell the animal proteins in your earwax, hence the appeal.

brown and white cat licks the ear of a black and white cat
Image Credit: Magui RF, Shutterstock

2. To Show Affection

If your cat keeps nudging on your earlobes or keeps licking in your ear, it may have nothing to do with the sticky substance itself. Your kitty may just be grooming you, but not because you are filthy, it’s just his way of saying he loves you. Grooming for cats isn’t just pragmatic, but it is also a way to socialize.

Usually, this sign of affection is displayed around the face and head area. It is also a cat’s way of creating a communal scent of familiarity. It is this scent that cats use to identify and recognize other animals. This type of behavior is usually witnessed when a cat is well-bonded with its owner.

3. To Understand the Smell

Usually, healthy earwax has a very light smell or doesn’t have any at all. So, if the wax oozing out of your ear has a pungent odor, this could be a sign of an ear infection that will pique your cat’s interest. The cat will try and understand the new smell and remember it for future reference.

In the wild, cats use their smell for guidance and to avoid potential predators. So, as disgusting as it may be, cats will naturally want to smell your earwax in a bid to understand it.

Close up of the dirty earwax taken from the feline's ear
Image Credit: Yaya Photos, Shutterstock

4. To Mark Territory

Some cats might prefer not to lick or smell the earwax on your Q-tips; instead, they would rather rub their cheeks onto the Q-tip surface. Wondering why? Well, these furry creatures have scent glands located in their cheeks. This is why you will find your cat rubbing his face on various surfaces in your living space, including your hands and legs.

So, if your cat is rubbing his face on your used Q-tips, it may not be because he is obsessed with earwax. He may just be trying to mark his territory, sort of make everything his own, as he does with everything else in his home.

5. Playfulness and Pure Curiosity

When you are out of the house, and your cat doesn’t have a lot of entertainment opportunities, it might use your discarded Q-tips as playthings. However, this doesn’t mean your cat would rather play with wax than anything else. It simply means it’s bored with the old toys, and you need to rotate them to prevent further boredom.

small gray kitten licks ear of tabby kitten
Image Credit: beton studio, Shutterstock

How to Prevent Your Cat From Eating Earwax

As much as human earwax may not be harmful for the cat, it may be disgusting for some people to witness. Some cat owners may even want to stop their cats from licking it.

Here are helpful tips to prevent your cat from licking earwax:

  • Get a Covered Garbage Can for Your Washroom – A covered waste disposal bin will prevent your cat from climbing over and retrieving your used disposables. This not only prevents them from licking the dirty swabs that might have bacteria, but it also prevents your cats from ingesting more dangerous products.
  • Redirect the Behavior – If your cat is overly prone to allogrooming, which is becoming annoying rather than endearing, try redirecting the behavior using cat treats or toys. You can divert your cat’s attention to more constructive activities. So, whenever she comes closer for a sniff, use the treat or toy to guide her away from your face.



To many people, the idea of licking, let alone smelling earwax is horrendous enough, as it probably should be. But that doesn’t mean that we can humanize a cat’s actions too much since our rules and norms do not apply to them. That being said, cats are overly attracted to earwax.

As obligate carnivores whose diet mainly consists of meat, it is attracted by the fatty acids, and cholesterol that make up the earwax. This is why you will find a cat licking Q-tips or your earlobes. They might also be licking your earlobes just to show affection.

Featured Image Credit: karamysh, Shutterstock

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